Chile’s little secret – a tale of two communities

Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria have been impoverished and massacred. On the other hand, Palestinians in Chile continue to enjoy significant success, by any standards.

CHILEANS RAISE their flag during a political campaign earlier this month.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
CHILEANS RAISE their flag during a political campaign earlier this month.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians have again been urged by their leaders to engage in “rage” following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Unfortunately, rage, greed, misappropriation of international aid and ongoing victimization are not policies, and will not provide for the future of talented Palestinians dreaming of a prosperous and peaceful life.
While experts consider various solutions to the Palestinian problem, ranging from a two-state solution with land swaps to a single state, to a Jordan solution, a Gaza-Sinai solution, population transfer with compensation, and other variants, Chile has been overlooked as possibly being part of the solution.
Chile reportedly has the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East, estimated at 500,000 in a total population of nearly 18 million, dwarfing the Jewish community of 25,000. Palestinians therefore are a much higher proportion of Chile’s population than Jews anywhere in Europe. In France, there are also about 500,000 Jews, but in a population of almost 67 million.
In addition to the despairing educated millennials in Judea/Samaria, Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria have been impoverished and massacred. On the other hand, Palestinians in Chile continue to enjoy significant success, by any standards.
Palestinians arrived in Chile in the second half of the nineteenth century, mostly poor and illiterate, having embarked on ships from Haifa, Beirut and Alexandria.
This occurred during Turkish Ottoman rule, long before Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Initially they were not welcomed. El Mercurio in April 1911 wrote, “Whether they are Mohammedans or Buddhists, what one can see and smell from far, is that they are more dirty than the dogs of Constantinople.”
A year later, Palestinians established their first Arabic-Chilean newspaper, Muerched.
Some 40 years later, this community had acquired substantial economic and political power. They continue to enjoy a high profile in politics, commerce, literature, media, sports and the arts.
While Palestinian bakeries, cafes and restaurants proliferate in Santiago’s Patronato district, this community’s public showcase is arguably the Palestinian Sports Club. The 27-acre Club Palestino boasts state of the art tennis, swimming and dining facilities that are a major source of pride. The Palestinian soccer team is one of Chile’s top teams, with some players also participating in the national team.
The World Bank ranks Chile as a high-income country, prosperous and politically stable.
The younger generation of Palestinians are Spanish-speaking, many having attended a Palestinian primary and secondary school. About 70% marry outside their community. Palestinian families are among the wealthiest in Chile.
Politically, 10% of Chile’s senators and 11% of lower house deputies are of Palestinian background.
The undersecretary for the interior and public security is Mahmud Aleuy.
Despite the integration of Palestinians in all sectors of Chilean public and private life, astonishingly, they consider themselves “stateless.”
This reflects the position of former Peruvian deputy president Omar Chehade, who maintained that Israel is a “fictitious state” and that South American Palestinians like himself were “stateless.”
Yet no one raises questions of dual loyalty, let alone accusations about the “Palestinian lobby,” or Palestinians “controlling” the media and banking.
As Palestinians in Chile continue to assimilate, enjoying power, wealth and success, their ongoing claim and narrative of being stateless refugees could be seen as offensive to their countrymen.
Palestinians in Ramallah, 14,000 km. away, can only shake their heads with envy at the lifestyle of their Chilean cousins.
With Israel the most powerful regional state in the Middle East, underpinned by a vibrant economy based on hi-tech innovation, Palestinians have only themselves to blame for decades of corrupt leadership, bad decisions, and a questionable future that seems to get bleaker each year.
Many Palestinians feel they have missed the boat, having mistakenly believed that time was on their side. US President Donald Trump’s sudden recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital challenged this comfortable but irrational belief. Rather than nation building, they have lived on generous handouts by the US and EU, much of which is spent on pensions for terrorists who are seen as heroes and martyrs. Cronyism, which forms part of their kleptocracy, became an integral part of Palestinian culture, reinforcing scepticism for a viable future.
When Palestinians see that Arab-Israelis dominate the pharmacy industry, are heads of departments in prestigious hospitals, have the best school graduates, are represented in the Knesset, Supreme Court and military, they must surely realize they have been cheated and lied to. After all, how do you explain success in both Israel and distant Chile, but not the West Bank and Gaza? Israel is no longer an option for Palestinians as it might have been decades ago.
Many educated Palestinians have been caught up in the cynical agenda of their leadership. They are frustrated and despairing, earning a fraction of what their real worth is.
With Israel continuing to increase its global standing and power, and with the international community tiring of supporting another failed state-in-waiting, Palestinians may well think of Chile as a viable option, as their ancestors did 150 years ago.
The writer is the author of the satire The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.